Turkey talk: Archaic words to introduce at Thanksgiving

Every year, churlish malaperts online urge us to ballyhoo agenda-driven talking points during the holiday feast. Push back with writerly archaisms.

Archaic words for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is the holiday most centered around simple joys: food, loved ones and the universal virtue of gratitude.

Yet every year, arrant momes, malt-horses, capons and coxcombs seek to divide families by cranking out talking points we are enjoined to bring to the dinner table and truculently throw in the faces of relatives, mid-gulp during thirds on the pumpkin pie.

Is it any surprise that many of these poltroons are politicos pedaling preferred positioning?

We at Ragan herewith appeal to writers, communicators and wordsmiths of all stripes to push back by establishing a better tradition: introducing archaic words to the Turkey Day dinner table.

Then again, should you choose to combine the two elements—political bickering and arcane utterances—archaisms have the advantage of being more likely to go over the head of whichever loved one you are insulting, be it Great-Uncle Fagin or your second cousin once removed, Lysistrata.

Either way, the holiday of Thanksgiving, steeped in lore and tradition, offers ample opportunity for dusting off cobwebbed vocabulary.

Ballyhooing archaisms

“Given that we’re talking about Thanksgiving,” says Ragan Communications Executive Editor Rob Reinalda, “words such as ballyhoo, hoopla, comestibles and victuals seem appropriate.”

Our reflections on archaic words were spurred by—yes—a press release, this one from Readly, a digital subscription service that designed a tool for viewing the evolution of words. (Let this also serve as a reminder to offer reporters your appropriately pegged pitches during these slow-news holiday weeks.) The list offers winners such as slipshod, sweetmeat, slugabed and zounds.

If you’re really looking to start a food fight over the turkey carcass, trot out loathly (in use from 1099 to 1945, Readly says). The Oxford English Dictionary defines this word as “hateful, disgusting, loathsome, repulsive, hideous, horrible.”

“Language is defined by our culture and the evolution of many different influences,” quoth Ranj Begley, Readly’s chief content officer. “It’s interesting to see how some words have longevity and others have come and gone.”

Here are a few words Readly has excavated, handy for Thanksgiving, your brand journalism piece, or your next call to a relative when you’re seeking to sever the relationship with gratuitous contumely:

Poltroon (circa 1529–1938): “a far more satisfying way of saying an utter coward.”

Scaramouch: (1662–1898): “a boastful but cowardly person.”

Slipshod (1580–1847): “worn down, specifically talking about the heel when referring to shoes.”

Scantling (1555–1935): “Why say that a small amount of poison was found when you can be far more dramatic with ‘a scantling of poison was discovered’?’” On a day when many of those hog-sized turkeys will be dished up undercooked (“Does Your Turkey Have Salmonella? Assume It Does” ), this word is certain to impress the ER physician.

Sanguinary (1623–1936): Readly thinks this synonym of “bloody” died during the Roosevelt era, but I find uses as recently this week (“Ghana’s longest-reigning military strongman and the country’s most sanguinary and swashbuckling throat-cutter”).

Crinkum-crankum (1670–1896): “No party or dress is complete without a bit of crinkum-crankum, a fun phrase that means elaborate decoration or detail.”

Speaking of esoteric colloquy, various online Shakespearean insult generators offer possibilities for adding to the warm feelings at the holiday table. Try out remarks such as, “Thou churlish malmsey-nosed pumpion,” and, “Thou adulterate milk-livered eunuch.”

Pilgrim and Native American words

If you can’t quite work up the bile to spit “Scaramouch!” in the face of that unenlightened aunt or uncle, esteemed PR Daily Editor Ted Kitterman suggests a kindlier bit of seasonal fun: Pilgrim-related wordplay. The Plimoth Plantation, a recreation of the Pilgrim colony, proposes these variants:

Instead of fireplace, say “hearth”

Instead of cat, say “mouser”

Instead of stew or porridge, say “pottage”

Instead of pants, say “breeches”

Instead of skirt, say “petticoat”

Instead of backward, say “arsy-varsy”

The latter, a derivative of “arse” dating to 1542, indicates that the Pilgrims were saltier than we often credit them with being. They quaffed ale (“The Pilgrims actually stopped at Plymouth Rock because they were running out of beer”), so enjoy your preferred IPA as you shout invective at your elders over the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions games.

The Boston Herald offers a resource for Wampanoag (Algonquin) words now used in English, Kitterman notes. Among them are pumpkin (from pohpukun, “grows forth round”), moccasin (mahkus, “covers the whole foot”) and moose (moos).

Learned Ragan.com Editor Robby Brumberg offers bouffage, which the OED dates to 1682 and calls a rare and obsolete word for “a satisfying meal.” Example: “His Inwards and Flesh remaining could make no Bouffage, but a light bit for the Grave.”

On this grand holiday of gratitude for some, and political pugnacity for others, let us hope none of us needs another rare word Brumberg suggests: vomitorium.


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